The effects of concussions have rightfully been the focus of an increasing amount of press over the last several years. Some stories are particularly disturbing: the motor deficits seen with boxer Muhammed Ali, incidences of suicides and depression suffered by professional and college level football players, and the recent plight of NHL star Crosby are just a few newsworthy stories.
Head trauma is a very serious issue. Athletes are bigger, quicker, and hit harder than they did decades ago. This likely corresponds with an increase in diagnosed concussions in professional and amateur sports. Recent research, however, is bringing to light something startling about concussions: many athletes are suffering brain damage not only from hard hits, but also from repeated smaller “micro-traumas” to the head.
Micro-traumas to the brain can be seen with something as innocuous as heading a soccer ball, or a football lineman pushing up against a opponent when the ball is snapped. If these activities are repeated over and over again, the end result can be just as disturbing as a diagnosed concussion.
From a rehabilitation standpoint, head injury patients are among the most difficult to treat. Chronic headaches, neck pain, and shooting pain down the arms are very common chronic conditions that arise from head and neck trauma. “Myofascial pain”, or pain stemming from the muscle, nerves, and other soft tissue structures is a common occurrence as well. Behavioral differences are noted when brain tissue is repeatedly knocked against the skull: depression, aggression, and changes in motor speech function are a few examples.
Young athletes often fail to recognize that multiple minor head traumas can have terrible long term consequences. My advice to parents may sound excessive, but is it truly worth a few years of competition and fun for your child, given what we now know about head trauma? I, for one, thank my parents for keeping me away from football in high school.